Hillary Clinton: The Asian-American choice

Barack Obama may be the "diverse" candidate, but in California, his voters came in just two colors: black and white.

Published February 6, 2008 7:18PM (EST)

At the big Oprah-headlined rally for Barack Obama in Los Angeles on Saturday, surprise guest Maria Shriver, California's first lady, cited -- as one of a string of reasons why the state's Democrats should vote for the senator from Illinois -- the fact that, like California, he was "diverse."

In the wake of Super Tuesday, we've learned that such diversity doesn't necessarily include Latinos, especially those older than 30. But a self-congratulatory article in the India Express touting the influence of Indian-Americans in the Democratic primary process reveals even greater constraints on the appeal of Obama's diversity. In California, exit poll data suggests that 69 percent of Latinos voted for Clinton, while only 29 percent voted for Obama. But Asian-American voters skewed even more sharply pro-Clinton: 75 percent voted for her, compared to 23 percent for Obama. That's almost as high as the percentage of the black vote (78 percent) that went for Obama.

Sen. Clinton has strong ties with Indian-Americans, and once joked at a fundraising event that she was "delighted to be the Senator from Punjab." Last June, Barack Obama stumbled into a storm of bad publicity when his campaign released an ill-advised attack on Clinton citing the Punjab joke and her ties to Indian outsourcing companies.

Despite the claims of the Indian press, the total numbers of Indian-American voters in the New York and New Jersey primaries were too small to significantly influence the overal results. (The total Asian vote was too small for there to be any relevant exit poll data.) A better case can be made in California. In Santa Clara County, where there are some 115,000 Indian-American residents, Clinton cleaned up, winning 54.8 percent to 39.3 percent -- better than her statewide average. (Whereas just to the north, in San Francisco and Alameda counties, Obama was the victor.)

But that's just one piece. In California, 8 percent of all Democratic voters identified themselves as Asian -- a category that encompasses a vast swath of cultures. Truly, California's diversity is extraordinary. But it doesn't appear, so far, to translate into a willingness to vote for a "diverse" candidate for president.

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

MORE FROM Andrew Leonard

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

2008 Elections Barack Obama California Globalization Hillary Rodham Clinton How The World Works